Burns, a pastor for eight years, had felt God leading him to pursue church planting as a career. He began looking at the nation's most unchurched areas -- the Northeast and the Northwest -- as possible destinations. He didn't know that his connection with Hogan would soon lead him to Vermont.
Meanwhile Hogan, pastor of Westmeade Baptist Church in Decatur, Ala., had gone to Vermont to help in the startup of a new Baptist college in Bennington. He saw firsthand the need for more churches. He also visited Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where the Haystack Prayer Meeting occurred in 1806, fostering a foreign missionary movement.
"It broke my heart that where the Gospel came to America -- the Northeast -- is 4 percent Christian now," Hogan said.
Hogan said he came home feeling "this was the place and this was the time" to lead Westmeade Baptist to fulfill his longtime vision of planting a church.
God had been preparing 36-year-old Burns too. While at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he took classes in church planting and met several times with his professor. Before that he had started new ministries -- a youth group at Hillsboro (Ala.) Baptist Church in 2000 and a junior high ministry at Celebration Church in New Orleans.
"God knew I was going to be a church planter long before I had a clue," Burns said.
Burns went on to pastor three churches in Louisiana and Alabama. He was at Harmony Baptist Church in Hillsboro, Ala., when he had his life-changing conversation with Hogan in 2012.
"I was amazed when started sharing with me about his vision for Westmeade to be a sending church for a new church plant in an unchurched area," Burns said. "As we talked and prayed for some time, we both sensed the Lord leading us to work together on this endeavor."
Westmeade voted to bring Burns on staff in June 2013 as a paid church planting intern for five years. Since then, Burns has been going through training, developing relationships in Vermont, raising additional support and recruiting a team.
His new church, Summit Church in Bennington, Vt., will officially launch Sept. 7.
The North American Mission Board will provide some additional support to the church plant.
Lyandon Warren, Vermont's NAMB church planting catalyst, said, " will be a visible sign to all of southern Vermont that God is up to some great things, spiritually speaking, and that brings with it great excitement.
"People in our context are extremely encouraged when solid Christian couples move into Vermont to help build the Kingdom."
Warren said he hopes to see Capstone Baptist Church in North Bennington, Vt. -- a church partnering with and helping start Summit -- encouraged and challenged by the church plant, and that Capstone will continue forward in its evangelistic and disciple-making efforts. Summit will be Capstone Baptist's second church plant in seven years.
Burns and his wife Kelli and daughters Sarah Grace, 9, and Elizabeth Faith, 3, are not the only ones relocating to help found Summit.
Burns' vision of small group connections and his aim to reach the 20-something demographic in Bennington made a deep impression, said Jake Stone, 26, who will be associate pastor and small group leader.
Thigpen will be worship pastor and Crow will be Summit's children's minister.
Jordan Grisham of Westmeade Baptist is a college student who will transfer to the new Northeastern Baptist College in Bennington and serve as student intern at Summit.
Another team member will be Lauren Cartwright of Tyler, Texas, a volunteer through NAMB who will focus on college student ministry.
The Burns family began moving March 31 and the Stones will move in May. Others will follow in the coming months.
Westmeade members will take part in major events at Summit as well as provide continuous prayer support from Decatur.
"Having a sending church like Westmeade and having this time to raise support, recruit a team and receive training has allowed us to have a great start," Burns said.
Melanie Smith is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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